How do you know if breastfeeding is best?

The first question people ask you when you’re pregnant is “When are you due?” and the second question that is most often asked is “Are you planning to breastfeed?”.  If you’re like me and it’s your first child, chances are your answer is a resounding yes. And why not? When you’re pregnant, you’re surrounded by the message that breastfeeding is the best for your child and that it’s the only thing you should give your baby until they are 6 months old.

Whether it be posters at the mid-wives office, handouts from the pre-natal classes or different organizations at baby shows – the message is clear – you have to breastfeed your baby (period). As a new mom, this was definitely my plan. I had no illusions, I was told that breastfeeding would be difficult. What ended up happening was not at all what I had expected – and not only that – the emotional toll was much more challenging too.

When you’re pregnant, you are fed messages about how terrible formula is and how you should be doing everything you can to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and continue for 1 -2 years.  The benefits of breastfeeding are many and are very well documented. And this becomes your mantra – I must not give my baby formula, I must exclusively breastfeed, no matter what. This breastfeeding vs. formula controversy was ignited this fall with the Old Navy Powered by Formula Onesies. Mommy bloggers were outraged by the sale of such an item (someone was buying it though, as it was already sold out at one location). I’ll admit, I was bothered by it as well. Of course this was before I become a mom.

Our breastfeeding story

Céline was born at our local hospital and when the pediatrician came to see her the day after she was born, she recommended that if I was going to breastfeed that I top her up with formula – especially since she was premature. We completely ignored this advice and were offended that she would suggest formula for our beautiful child – who was going to be exclusively breastfed.

When Céline was only a few days old, she dropped over 10% of her body weight and developed a serious case of jaundice. She had to be readmitted to the hospital and she needed food to grow. Although my milk had come in, she was too little and had trouble latching. And even though I was pumping, I was barely getting 10 ml every two hours.  She needed at least 30 ml of food, every 2 hours, in order for her to get better. So we started to supplement with formula.  I cried. I was so upset, frustrated, angry – you name it – that I didn’t have enough milk for my child. In our case, without formula, there is little doubt that she would not have been able to get better.

So, I gave in. I realized that I would have to supplement with formula. But I wasn’t ready to give up, in fact I started to attend the breastfeeding clinic at the hospital to get some help with breastfeed and increase my milk supply.  I started taking the herbs (fenugreek and blessed thistle) and the drugs (domperidone) to increase my supply. The clinic is a wonderfully supportive environment, that encourages your success, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or not.

What we decided to do

Here we are with an 8 week old infant, who receives about half her nourishment from breastmilk and half from formula. And we will be doing this as long as possible – but probably not for a year. I am tired of comments about how formula is terrible and the formula companies are just out to make a buck, and basically that formula is another F word. What many people don’t realize is that many of us who are supplementing with formula or are exclusively formula feeding, may have tried everything possible to exclusively breastfeed. But at the end of the day – our babies need to eat!!

So next time you’re thinking about judging someone who has stopped breastfeeding after a few weeks, or is supplementing with formula – just think about this: It costs me more to breastfeed my child than it does to give her formula – not only in dollars (herbs, drugs, purchase of an electric breastpump – which I use up to 8 times a day) but it also costs in time: 30 min at the breast, 15 min of pumping plus all of the cleaning and preparation.  If I had an abundant milk supply and breastfeeding was easier for me, I would be overjoyed.  But it’s not – and I know I’m not alone. And I’m over feeling guilty or feeling that I’m not a great mom because I’m giving my daughter formula.

Finally, I found out that I was only breastfed for 6 weeks – my mom also suffered low milk supply – and in those days, there was no one to help her if she wanted to continue.  Seems to me that I turned out just fine!

Check in with your thoughts below – I’m curious to see where people weigh in on this issue.

%d bloggers like this: